Friday, May 25, 2012

The Dawn of Dark Skies - Lyrics, Composition, Gear...The Lowdown

The Dawn of Dark Skies is one of our older songs and this slightly revamped version was a ton of fun to revise and record for your listening pleasure. There is a lot to discuss here compositionally and lyrically, so let's get started!

Lyrics: Being one of our older compositions, the lyrics are arguably a little less original topic-wise, but I feel like the other characteristics in the lyrics make up for this possible failing. In a nutshell, the overarching topic of the piece is finding that proverbial comfort zone where one can truly be him- or herself. Included in this theme is the idea that we have multiple selves--a public self which is donned in order interact with a disapproving (or diversity-sterilized) majority, and a private self that is hidden from others except when one is in places (literal or figurative) where it is safe to project or live out that identity. This message is delivered symbolically, through equating "the light" with public places, where one is expected to meet certain social, cultural, or ideological expectations, and using "the dark" as a symbol for the locales wherein a person might live out their true self free from the probing critique of others.

One of the things I dig about the lyrics in this song is the successful mixture of standard rock-style lyrics in the majority of the song and very prose-like lyrics in the interlude.

Add to this the poetic and descriptive depth of both the interlude and the coda lyrics (quoted below), the song's message seems to come alive in a way that describes an oft-covered topic in a more poetic, meaningful way:

Interlude Lyrics:
Watercolor skies dissolve into inky hues
The masks we wore…
The warm veneer of our published selves decays into
What only moonlight can excuse

Coda Lyrics:
So let's meet at our secret place
At the dawn of dark skies
To set free
Our nocturnal desires

Composition: One of the most striking aspects of The Dawn of Dark Skies is the contrast between the verses and choruses, but the purpose of of these changes are intentional and are done in concert with a few other purposeful arrangement and compositional choices. All of these decisions were made in the interest of providing musical symbolism to accompany the imagery of the lyrics.

The first example of this is the musical theme introduced in the song's introduction. In order to set the mood for the lyrical theme of hiding one's true identity, I chose to compose a theme that gave the distinct impression of "sneaking around." Pink Panther jokes aside, I think this was done successfully, and particularly so in the unified quarter-note catch/rest before the theme turns itself around. Very sneaky-sounding! In addition to this, the odd harmonies between the two guitars lends a bit of a haunting, if not confused, musicality to the theme.

The verses are fairly straight forward, but the alternating guitars, continued use of unified and quick full-band rests, and whispered back ups that concentrate the meaning of each verse all serve to support the introspective feel.

There are two key properties to notice in the choruses. First, I took the opportunity to make use of an ever-evolving chorus as a way of heightening the effect of each, and as a way of doing something new with the standard verse/chorus song structure.  To that end, each chorus boasts something different than the last. Aside from the obvious addition of vocal lines to each, the first chorus is completely instrumental (and actually sounds more like a passing movement that operates in response to the verse lyrics), and the lead work on the guitar is made more intricate with each successive chorus. Secondly, The arrangement in general for the choruses is meant to be dense--full of emotional lines that speak to the attempt to maintain one's composure as well as the failure to do so. It's meant to sound frantic, somewhat involuntary, and hard to contain. I personally love the arrangement of the instruments--so much question/answer, so much energy weaving in and out!

The interlude features an octave-down version of the intro theme, which allows the dense vocal arrangements to breathe a little easier over the rhythm section's melody, as well as allow room for a killer keyboard part! The group vocal arrangement for the interlude is meant to evoke a community, in a sort of Greek chorus sort of way, by expanding the spotlight from the lead vocalist onto a group of like-minded lamenters who have found comfort in "the dark."

The subtle keyboard solo featured in the interlude was written by our drummer Andy Hector. His writing contributions have largely tended to be in the form of arrangement suggestions up until this point, and this marks his first major melodic contribution to a song. It is a great touch and really helps bring the song to another level.

Writing Credits: Dilley, Hector, Marx

Fun Facts for Musicians and Audiophiles: 

-Standard Tuning / Key: D minor 

-The coda section, where you hear an arrangement of lead vocal, whispering, and solo bass guitar, was originally a single guitar (playing the same voicings) and lead vocal. The older version sounded fantastic, but in the end we decided on going with the bass guitar because its lower range lent itself more to the somber tone of the song, and because I am always looking for a place to highlight the often underused melodic abilities of such an under-appreciated (in the mainstream) instrument.

-One of the key mixing characteristics of this song is the hard panning on the vocals. I love it, and the reason we did this is two-fold. Mostly it was a conscious choice to get a semi-choral effect from all the vocal parts in the song. Second, it really helped balance out this incredibly dense piece of music at its most intense parts.

-To get the right sound for the drums in the verse, Andy utilizes brushes rather than sticks. Listen and be seduced by their plushy softness.

Below is a quick video of Andy tracking parts of "The Dawn of Dark Skies" on his kit. Enjoy!

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